1. Its age: Jos. Kuhn & Co. is marking 150 years in business this year, one of only a few family-owned men’s clothing stores still in business.
Manager Gordon Tracy said he was told a few years ago that there were “only four men’s clothing stores in the U.S. that were 150 years or older and still owned by descendants of the founding families.”
“We would be No. 5,” Tracy said of the store founded by entrepreneur Joseph Kuhn and subsequently overseen by three more generations — his son, Isaac Kuhn; Isaac’s son-in-law, B.B. Wiese; and Isaac’s grandson and B.B.’s nephew, Dr. William D. Youngerman.
Tracy said he meets with Youngerman usually once a week to discuss payroll, advertising and merchandising budgets.
2. Its evolution: Today’s store is different from what it was when downtown department stores were in their heyday.
“This floor here is roughly 5,000 square feet,” Tracy said, “and the store, when built, was 35,000 square feet.”
At that time, Jos. Kuhn & Co. had merchandise on multiple floors and once offered women’s clothing as well as men’s.
Tracy said there’s little likelihood that the store will expand beyond its current size.
“The rest of the building isn’t used, and probably won’t be,” he said. If the three upper floors were remodeled for use other than storage — say, apartments — “the entire building would have to be brought up to code,” he said.
“It would be a huge expense to have an outside elevator,” he added. “I don’t see how the upper floors could be brought back into use.”
3. Its merchandise: Kuhn’s sells suits, sport coats, slacks, dress and sport shirts, sweaters, hats and special-order shoes from Allen Edmonds. The store also carries socks, underwear, wallets, cuff links, ties, tie bars, suspenders, robes and pajamas, Tracy said.
Among the major brands carried are: suits and sport coats by Hart Schaffner & Marx and DKNY, as well as Palm Beach suits. The store also carries Enro and Michael Kors dress shirts, plus slim fits by John Varvatos and Calvin Klein.
The store also sells Luciano Visconte sport shirts and Stone Rose slim-fit sport shirts, Tracy said. Neckwear offerings include American-made Barbara Blank ties.
Tracy, who began selling shoes at Sholem’s while still in high school, later worked seven years for S&K Menswear before coming to Kuhn’s.
“I wanted to take the store back to quality — to take it back to quality of service, where every guy gets measured,” Tracy said.
4. Its sizes: Kuhn’s carries suits from 36 short up to 54 extra long.
“A lot of stores don’t start at 36 short,” Tracy said. “We get a lot of students who are relatively small, and the students who are tall appreciate getting extra long suits.”
At one time, 40 percent of the merchandise at Kuhn’s was big-and-tall merchandise. Today that has been trimmed to 25 percent.
5. Its tonsorial offerings: Jos. Kuhn & Co. added a shaving department two years ago when shaving products were getting more popular. Today the store sells shaving cream, soap, aftershave, cologne and beaver brushes — but not straight razors.
6. Its advertising and marketing: To get word out, the store advertises on radio year-round and sends out a mailer around Thanksgiving to professionals and American Express card holders.
Kuhn’s also targets specific populations, offering year-round discounts to police, firefighters, veterans, members of the military and Rotarians, Tracy said.
The store has a website — joskuhn.com — but it strictly provides information about the products Kuhn’s sells.
“We don’t sell anything online,” Tracy said.
The site was set up to sell merchandise, “but there wasn’t enough to continue so we just stopped selling it online,” he said.
7. Its display windows: One of the best advertisements for merchandise are the front window displays.
“The three windows are very important,” Tracy said. “We redo the windows every two weeks.”
Because pedestrian traffic in downtown Champaign is so heavy at evening and night as people visit bars and restaurants, Kuhn’s keeps the windows lit until about 2 a.m.
Tracy said many have told him they were walking by at night, saw an item they liked and came back to ask about it.
8. Its appeal on campus: Tracy said he believes Kuhn’s customer base divides up roughly 50-50 between college students and other demographic groups.
“The younger person is typically a college-age young professional who has become more fashion-conscious and wants to have a suit or two in his wardrobe,” Tracy said. “Often, they’re coming in to prepare for interviews.”
Some noticed the store while downtown, or a professor or adviser suggested they come, he added.
In several cases, students opted for flashy styles, “and they’ve come back to thank us for pushing them into a more conservative look for the interview,” he said.
9. Its busiest times: Tracy, one of three Kuhn’s employees, said fall and winter tend to be the stronger months for business.
“There are more people buying from early August to the end of February and March,” he said.
The store is generally open six days a week and closed Sundays — except from Thanksgiving to Christmas, when it’s open from noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.
The store is open a little later on Tuesday and Friday evenings. Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays.
10. Its artifacts: The display floor includes a few testaments to Kuhn’s history, including a sleigh that belonged to the Kuhn family. Now located toward the rear of the store, it has often been a feature in the annual Parade of Lights during the holiday season. There’s also an antique scale that Tracy said “weighs 4 pounds heavy.”
A Kuhn’s chronology
1865 — Joseph Kuhn opens his first store in Champaign. Born in Germany in 1837, he is reported to have come to the U.S. at age 19. He worked for his brother-in-law in Mississippi for five years and was drafted into the Confederate Army. According to J.O. Cunningham’s “The History of Champaign County,” Kuhn served 13 months, then took an oath of allegiance to the U.S. He worked a short time in Lafayette, Ind., came to Champaign County in 1864 and opened his first store the following year.
1867 — Joseph Kuhn buys two-story building at 45 Main St. and moves store there. After store is damaged in 1872 as result of a nearby fire, he rebuilds store as a two-story brick building and calls the business the “Star Clothing Store.”
1887 — Joseph Kuhn’s son, Isaac, invests in the store, and the name is changed to Joseph Kuhn and Son. Ten years later, Isaac buys a half-interest in the store.
1907 — Isaac Kuhn builds four-story brick building at 33-37 Main St., and the store moves to that location the following year. In 1909, the business becomes Joseph Kuhn and Co.
1915 — Joseph Kuhn dies at his home, 309 W. University Ave., C.
1920s — Harold “Red” Grange and other University of Illinois athletes pose in ads for Kuhn’s. According to a 1994 News-Gazette story by Becky Mabry, some athletes did live modeling in the store windows.
1946 — One of Isaac’s sons-in-law, attorney B.B. Wiese — husband of Helen Kuhn Wiese — joins the business part time, with responsibilities growing over time.
1955 — Kuhn’s opens a branch store in Tuscola.
1956 — Isaac Kuhn dies in January; son-in-law B.B. Wiese assumes leadership mantle for next 25 years. Also in 1956, the store’s central “well” — that had been open to fourth-floor stained-glass skylight — is closed off, adding more space on each floor.
1958 — Kuhn’s opens a women’s apparel shop on the third floor.
1970 — Kuhn’s adds the building at 29 Main St., remodeling it for a men’s shoe department. Store also adds an art supply shop.
1976 — Kuhn’s opens branch store, Kuhn’s Too, at Market Place Shopping Center, with stained-glass skylight moving there too. That store closes in 1991.
1981 — Dr. William D. Youngerman, son of Ruth Kuhn Youngerman and grandson of Isaac Kuhn, buys business from uncle and aunt, B.B. and Helen Kuhn Wiese.
1988 — Kuhn’s opens store in Danville’s Village Mall.
[“source – news-gazette.com”]